To save money, the county Veterans Service Agency will eliminate its door-to-door transportation service for veterans who need to go to the Stratton Veterans’ Administration Medical Center in Albany for medical appointments.
Instead, the veterans will be asked to meet the van at a central location in their town, starting next week. The ride itself will continue to be free.
The goal is to reduce the miles put on the van each month and to save money, said Andrew Davis, director of the county veterans’ agency.
“This service is our most expensive, and it serves a very small percentage of our veterans,” he said Monday in a report to the county Veterans’ Committee in Ballston Spa.
About 150 veterans use the service, Davis said, a few of them nearly daily, but most once every few months or once a year. The county’s total veteran population is more than 17,000.
Davis is projecting the van program will cost the county $63,000 to $65,000 this year. Department heads have been urged to find ways to save money because of the county’s tight finances this year.
“The cost of fuel and maintenance is rising for everybody, including us,” Davis said.
He said regular users of the van — there are a handful who ride to the Stratton center several times a week, year-round — have already been told about the change, and there were only a couple of complaints.
The program doesn’t serve veterans who use wheelchairs, because the van isn’t equipped for them.
When the van service was launched in the 1990s, the goal was to provide a transportation option for veterans who lived in rural areas far from the Stratton center in Albany.
At that time, veterans were asked to come to a central location in each community. But over time, Davis said, when the driver agreed to pick up one veteran at home, others complained, and now almost all riders are picked up at their homes.
The practice will simply be stopped for everyone, to avoid complaints about favoritism. “It has to be all or nothing,” he said.
Other counties that provide van service to Stratton for their residents, including Schenectady and Warren counties, require the veterans to get to a central pickup point, Davis said.
Under the new system, every town in the county will have a central pickup point, often but not always at the town hall. Saratoga Springs will have four pickup spots, and Clifton Park will have two. Veterans needing a ride will still be required to make a reservation, as they do now.
Davis said he hopes the new arrangement will reduce the 5,000 to 8,000 miles the van is being driven each month. If the new system saves enough driving time, he would like to see the van add additional stops in Albany.
Currently, he said, the van goes only to the Stratton main campus, though there are other counseling and treatment centers for veterans in the Albany area. Davis said he’d like to be able to bring veterans to those programs, too.
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